Journalists and artists wearing black shirts gathered today at the Boy Scout Circle in Quezon City for the #BlackFriday protest calling on everyone to defend press freedom and fight what they call ‘tyranny’ in light of the government’s revocation of online news site Rappler’s license and the court’s subpoena against its CEO Maria Ressa. Several media groups believe it is an orchestrated effort of President Rodrigo Duterte and his government in stifling his critics and the press.

Maria Ressa and several other Rappler executives and reporters attended the protest. Other prominent media personalities present in the activity were Malou Mangahas of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, University of the Philippines Mass Communications professor, Danilo Arao, film director Joel Lamangan; blogger and columnist Tonyo Cruz, veteran journalist, TV5 broadcaster Atty. Mel Sta. Maria, and artist Mae Paner.

The #BlackFriday protest was organized by media and artists groups, Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Altermidya People’s Alternative Media Network and the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP). The protest comes after the decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission to cancel the news outfit’s license for allegedly violating constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership of media entities through the Philippine Despositary Receipt (PDR). The separate subpoena issued against Ressa and a former Rappler reporter stemming from a cybercrime complaint  on an article published way back 2012.

During the rally, LODI slammed the Duterte government for the de facto criminalization of the members of the press in their performance of duty. The group said that “the only crime that we can admit is reporting the truth and ills of the society.”

“We’re just journalists. And yet there’s a lot of effort to turn journalism into a crime,” Ressa said during the protest.

In a press statement, LODI said that the attack on Rappler, press freedom and human rights in general as “a prelude to the regime’s frenzied efforts to ram through an overhaul of the Constitution and pave the way for an indefinite period of dictatorship.”

“Duterte and his minions demonize human rights of everyone especially the critics, legitimize killings , threaten to mutilate the Bill of Rights and do everything to terrorize the public,” said Tonyo Cruz, member of LODI.

“Duterte also know that the people must be forced, by hook or by crook to renounce their rights and embrace tyranny.”

‘Media as a threat to Cha-Cha push, ‘Tyranny’

NUJP on the other hand, released a statement on Thursday, March 30 stressed the power and inherent responsibility of a free and independent media that can report and expose abuse of power. They slammed the President for his “brazen abuse of you immense power as chief executive of this land and only shows how little, if any, appreciation you have of democracy and governance.”

Cruz added that “a free media is a threat to any aspiring dictator.

LODI condemned President Duterte for taking extraordinary measures to supposedly ‘punish’ Rappler, the license revocation, the cybercrime raps and the consistent threats hurled against Philippine Daily Inquirer and TV-giant ABS-CBN.

The group noted that the commonality of the said cases is that “they are perceived to be providing critical coverage of the administration and his drive towards becoming a tyrant.”

President Duterte and his allies have been widely criticized for a ‘looming tyranny’. On Tuesday, President Duterte’s allies in the House of Representatives hammered a resolution to convene the Lower Chamber as a Constituent Assembly all the way to amend the republic’s constitution. The adoption of the resolution came under fire and was labelled by several nationalist groups as an effort of railroading federalism when House Rules appeared to have been violated by the House leadership by dismissing loud objections of Makabayan bloc congressmen in the plenary.

LODI, NUJP, Altermidya and CEGP also called out President Duterte’s legal counsel Salvador Panelo for saying that “Filipinos are largely uneducated and not capable of deciding their fate. Panelo’s statements were in reference to the option of allowing the Filipino people to directly decide on the pushed charter change of the Duterte government. LODI said that this dehumanizing view could only come from a club of tyrants who think they alone could and should decide for the nation.

Public urged to defend press freedom

Rally organizers called on all citizens to “thwart the aspiring tyrant who views a shuttered Rappler as a stepping stone towards a dictatorship.” They also urged the public “not to allow democracy, however flawed it is, to die and for us to lose all our civil liberties.”

In the protest, Cruz said, “Let us defend press freedom and freedom of expression. Let us defend all basic rights and civil liberties guaranteed by our Constitution. President Duterte not only refuses to respect these rights, he is openly targeting to take them away while also aiming to tighten his grip on power.”

“The regime appears to be mighty but the Word and the Spirit will triumph. Filipinos have faced the darkness before and emerged victorious. We shall overcome,” Cruz added.

The rally organizers vowed they will not be cowed by what they call as ‘harassment’ of the Duterte government against press freedom.

“We’re going to hold the line. We’re speaking truth to power. That’s what makes democracy work. We’re not afraid and we won’t be intimidated,” Ressa said.

Photos by KJ Dumapit and Kathy Yamzon

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